Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Johnny Dee calls for chart separatism

Johnny Dee is alarmed by the plan to release every X Factor performance as a digital download this year, and has a radical plan - banning covers from the singles chart.

Actually, I'm not sure it's such a major worry. Part of the reason why the X Factor Christmas single does so strongly is because people have spent weeks watching a series, and this is the pay-off: you've spent hours watching things come to this point, you might as well pay a couple of quid for a souvenir.

If every track is available to buy, not only will a lot of that build-up to the moment of purchase be lost, but also those people who buy a disappointing version of Hallelujah because they aren't able to buy the better song the singer did a couple of weeks back will no longer have to do so; they get the song they want.

Sure, the winner's single will be still be an unstoppable vehicle, but more of a runaway milkfloat than a cascading juggernaut.

Still, Johnny is worried that we'll see a chart cluttered up for weeks with dental nurses and comedy twins doing cover versions.

You or I might see this a problem a bit like someone dropping a crisp packet in the Gulf Of Mexico - it's a terrible thing to do, but not even making a bad situation worse in any noticeable way.

So his idea? Ban cover versions:

In the 80s when compilations such as 'Now That’s What I Call Music' took over the album charts the solution was to consign them to their own separate chart - a chart that receives absolutely zero attention and never will despite the fact that compilation albums still sell 10 times more than single artist albums.
But this was a cynical record label move, purely designed to disguise the fact that nobody really much liked albums anyway, and only ever wanted the singles. It was a war against pop, not in its favour and - of course - has really rendered every chart since then more meaningless than the albums charts would be intrinsically.
With one brave step The Official Chart Company could do more for genuinely talented artists than thousands of talent shows. They could create a single chart for original music and a separate singles chart for cover version music.

In an instant Cowell’s empire would crumble and along with it, as collateral damage, the supermarket bilge of Westlife and their ilk. The campaign for decent pop starts here.
The problem here, though, is that while it would have stopped Atomic Kitten's The Tide Is High getting to number one, it would have also stopped Blondie's version doing the same.

A chart rule which would have turned Robert Wyatt's Shipbuilding away at the door because it wasn't proper, or would have told Sinead O'Connor to try harder than merely doing a cover of Nothing Compares 2U, is clearly a bad rule.

And if the rule was put in place, how could Liquid Greek celebrate getting to number 10, knowing that they only did so because the songs that people were actually buying weren't being counted? It's like winning a race at a championship were the elite athletes arrived late due to taffic jams.

Worse, because the covers will be all over the radio, people will look at the charts, not see the songs they feel to be the current hits, and wonder what the point of a chart is at all. "What is the Liquid Greek and where are Jedward and Joe?" Nobody much cared about Now vanishing from the album charts, because nobody really even knew there was an album chart back then, apart from readers of Record Mirror and the bloke who pinned the list up in Woolworths. Cutting the songs people - for whatever reason - value out of the chart makes the chart irrelevant to those people. Not the best way to shore up the chart.

If the charts are to have any meaning, they have to a dumb, basic, report on what people are buying. Not making value judgements or raising spurious quality thresholds.

If the charts are full of old clod, it's because people's ears are full of old clod. Pretending it isn't there won't make things better.


Mbop Promotions said...

Completely agree, hopefully 'Rage Against The Machine-esque' people power will strike again this Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Can he really have thought this through? It's like an idea he had just before closing time and then he went home and posted it.

Surely this morning he must have woken up and thought "errm...yeah that was a daft idea"

Robin Carmody said...

I don't think the circumstances are the same at all, but in the US, all downloads of American Idol performances are kept off Hot Digital Songs (they wouldn't be eligible for the Hot 100 anyway, because they're not being promoted to radio) until each season of the show has ended, and details of which performances have sold the most downloads are kept from the public.

Mind you, this is officially to prevent the judges' verdicts being affected ...

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